One of the things that is most intriguing to me about the Saw movies is how much I actually have enjoyed them. I’m not a gorehound who is just out to watch the movies with the most grisly special effects. In fact, I do find violence for violence’s sake a bit distasteful. However, if things are done well in the film, I can appreciate good splatter cinema.
Ever since the first Saw cut into the American mainstream in 2004, it has been often imitated but rarely matched. The first two films were interesting enough and caught me with some cool twists. The third film wasn’t as good as the first two, but it still offered something more to watch than torture porn.
The fourth installment of the series hits the theaters in time for Halloween, making a visit to the theater for more of Jigsaw’s antics a seasonal tradition for me. As far as fourth installments in a series, Saw IV is quite impressive. It doesn’t top the first two films, settling more along the lines of the third movie. Still, the fact that the flicks are still bearable, even likable, is a feat for horror cinema.
In this episode, Jigsaw is dead, along with his protege Amanda. The cops are left to pick up the pieces and track down his other potential victims. One detective named Rigg (Lyriq Bent) is kidnapped by someone who wishes to keep Jigsaw’s games going, and he’s put in his own maze. Rigg is ushered through several scenarios that pit him against other victims and force him to do unspeakable things for the greater good.
It is actually this perspective that makes these films most interesting to me. While standard American slasher movies glorify violence against the innocent, the Saw films actually have a purpose. To dismiss them as gratuitous torture porn is actually quite ignorant. Believe it or not, these films have a message that you don’t find in every horror flick.
Jigsaw doesn’t choose his victims at random, but rather to give people a chance to appreciate life. Sure, I would rather get inspired by watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon instead of forcing my face through a web of knives, but that’s just me.
Saw IV delves deeper into the mind and motivations of Jigsaw, and by doing this, it challenges its audience to look at the world through his eyes. While Jigsaw approaches the villains of his world with righteous indignation, who can actually argue these people are innocent. Maybe Jigsaw goes overboard, but his motivations are more understandable than the standard slasher bad guy.
Ultimately, Jigsaw targets people who either deserve what’s coming to them (like a serial rapist, a child abuser and a murdering junkie) or people who, at the very least, need to find some direction out of a self-destructive lifestyle. Maybe the reason these films do so well is not that people like to watch innocent victims get tortured, but rather because its cathartic to our collective consciousness to watch real human debris get what they deserve.
Saw IV was not screened for critics, which is not a big surprise. I would fully expect my review to be one of the few positive ones out there. And if the packed midnight screening I went to is any indication of the way people will react, I’ll bet there’s a Saw V and Saw VI coming down the pike for more Halloween box office in upcoming years.
There are some flaws in this film, mainly in the overacting and overdirecting department. The movie slips into the Nine Inch Nails music video mode way too often, the characters go over the top in many scenes and the gratuitous gore in the opening sequence leaves me wondering how much worse the unrated DVD cut is going to be. Still, while the Saw movies are far from Shakespeare, they are still interesting flicks and worth a watch… if you can stomach them.
The Upside: Still decent horror movies after all these years.
The Downside: If it does well, Hollywood might consider a Hostel Part III.
On the Side: Tobin Bell, who plays Jigsaw, is the uncle of a guy I used to work with.
Release Date: October 26, 2007
Rated: R for sequences of grisly bloody violence and torture throughout, and for language.
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Lyriq Bent, Dina Meyer
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Screenplay: Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, Thomas Fenton
Studio: Lionsgate Films
Official Website: Saw4.com